Every generation has its flagship musical instrument. If you ask me, (which of course you will because you know I’m a freakin’ genius) I’d say the mainstay of popular instrumentation over the last six decades has been the guitar, being a very publically accessible instrument of “the people”. You know, all us hard-knock, blue-collar, regular ol’ Joes out there just trying to get by…we have gravitated to the guitar as our generation’s instrument. A century and half or so ago, it was the piano, being that most households (and by most households I mean wealthy households) of the western world had a piano and basically all of the proper Victorian young ladies and gentlemen had to know their scales and arpeggios and the like in order to get any chance with anyone ever.
"Oh I say! Play that funky music, Mr. Darcy!"
But as Bob Dylan (and a bunch of reggae artists with big Bob Dylan crushes) has said, “the times, they are a-changin’” and a whole new instrument is starting to make its way into the public eye as the all-around accessible people’s instrument. I submit to you, dear reader (there’s only one of you after all), that this new, ground-breaking instrument that everyone seems to want and like and crave is...the humble ukulele.
Am I saying that I think the ukulele is going to replace the guitar in popularity any time soon? Not at all. I think the guitar is still regarded by most people as the number one instrument in which to pick up chicks (human mating being the necessity to birth the invention of music, after all). But over the last five or six years, it has become much more apparent that the tastes of the contemporary pop populous have exceeded that of the typical guitar/bass/drums combo that has ruled the radio waves for years. Nowadays on the radio (and especially on YouTube), you’re going to find a lot of professional to amateur musicians choosing ukulele as their main weapon in musical battle. Why do you think that is? Why should anyone opt to start playing ukulele? And for god’s sake, will it get me any ACTION??!! Well, I can answer at least two of those questions…
Reason to Start Playing Uke #1: A Lot Less $$$ for Just as Much Music
When starting out on a guitar, bass guitar, drums, or even most band instruments, by the time you start shopping around for all that you need to get started, many people are surprised to find how much is actually going into just getting you started. For example, in order to get started playing electric guitar, you’re going to need not just the guitar itself, but also an amp, an instrument cable, and other accessories like picks, straps, strings, and the like. Same thing goes for bass guitar, and as every drummer knows (and pains over on a regular basis), even the most basic kits can be somewhat high-maintenance and relatively expensive when you factor in all the cymbals, hardware, sticks, and those ear plugs you’ll need for your parents/neighbors. Basically, most instruments require some sort of rig or kit in order to get started properly, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you consider that there are some pretty screamin’ deals on starter packs for all of the above *wink wink*.
But if you’re just dipping your toes into the musical water, not sure where you want to start and looking for a good, low-maintenance alternative to most popular instruments, the ukulele is a great choice. Most good quality ukuleles start at fractions of the price good quality guitars, basses and drum kits start at, giving you just as much instrument for much less money. Most ukuleles just need themselves and your fingers; no amps, no cables…unless you want a uke with a preamp, which we have and are awesome!
But that’s the beauty of the ukulele: they are small, they are low maintenance, and they are relatively inexpensive compared to other instruments out there. That's just one of the reasons why it makes a great starter instrument and extremely accessible to players of all experience levels.
But then you can also factor in the convenience of…
Reason #2: The Ukulele is a Very Simple Instrument to Learn
Whenever you choose to learn a new instrument, it’s no secret that all instruments require a certain amount of self-discipline and quite a bit of practice. Doesn’t matter if you’re a drummer in a rock band or an electric laser marimba player: it’s going to take practice and it’s going to be a little bit difficult to begin with.
Though ukuleles are no exception to that fact, one of the coolest things about the them is their simplicity and their ability to lend themselves to the beginner player quite well. Being a physically smaller instrument with much softer strings than steel-string guitars or basses, ukuleles are easier on your hands and you don’t have to build up calluses or stretch your fingers out to the breaking point in order to accommodate a large scale length (things most people have to do when beginning guitar).
To speak from personal experience, before I worked here, I had never paid any attention to ukes. I’ve been drumming for almost two decades, I’ve been playing guitar for just over a decade, and bass guitar is my main gigging instrument as of late, so I was used to having to work quite a bit to play certain instruments. But when I started working here, on a slow day I’d get bored, pick up a uke from the wall, flip through the Internet for chord charts and seriously, in about a week I was playing everything from “Greensleaves” to “Kashmir” to “Start Me Up”, songs that would otherwise take me weeks or months to get the hang of on any other instrument. So I can personally attest to ukes being pretty straight-forward, user-friendly instruments. And though I had the advantage of having already learned a few instruments beforehand, I have several friends and several more customers that come through here who on a whim picked up a uke and within a week new the thing backwards and front. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying ukuleles magically bestow musical talent on any and all who pick them up…there’s still a learning curve, just like with everything else. But I would make the argument that the curve isn’t as steep as it would be with a guitar or a drum kit. If you’re looking to start a musical journey of your own (one without cats in it), ukulele may be the perfect place for you to start. There’s a lot you can do with a uke and a little effort!
Which brings me to my third point…
Reason #3: Versatile and Popular
If you thought I was exaggerating a bit at the beginning of this blog when I said ukuleles may be this next generation’s flagship instrument…well, I could have been. My intention is not to exaggerate, however, because regardless of your opinion of the instrument, I can’t help but notice that the ukulele has definitely grown extremely popular in the last decade or so. The proof is in the explosion of YouTube song cover videos where eight times outta ten, it’s some adorable chick ironically strumming the heck out of her ukulele. And the ukulele wave hasn’t just reserved itself for middle school girls and hipsters. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder released a high-grossing album in 2011 with songs almost exclusively featuring him on the ukulele. And as someone who can’t quite admit to liking Pearl Jam, I will admit to liking Eddie’s uke music.
Other great examples of artists making use of the uke are funk-pop-bowler-hat wizard Jason Mraz who won the hearts of all 13 to 20 something’s with his single “I’m Yours” in like…2008? Man, that song was so dang popular and so dang overplayed and so dang over-covered that I can’t even remember when it came out. But hey! Another example of a song featuring ukulele! And that song started a huge overturn in the pop music world, where bands like Train immediately abandoned all their Jupiter drops and quickly hopped aboard the adorable ukulele pop rock bandwagon. And it worked. People like this stuff, I’m telling you.
It isn’t exactly a new thing, either. Everyone remembers that gorgeous medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World” by Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwoʻole back in the late 90’s. If you’re somehow not able to remember it, I guarantee that if you’ve been to a wedding or seen a baby shampoo commercial in the last ten years, you’ve heard this song. A great example of how ukulele’s have found their way into modern music and kicked ass in it.
Notice how all the examples I have listed have cut a wide swath from genre to genre? It’s because ukes are surprisingly versatile for how simple an instrument they are. You can use ‘em in pretty much anything. Admittedly, I’ve yet to hear an example of ukulele death metal, but once someone figures that out for me, cut me a demo. I’d love to hear it.
All this to say, if you haven’t considered ukulele as another legitimate instrument to add to your repertoire, or if you’re just looking for a good place to get in the music game, I highly recommend checking them out. Here at the shop, we keep a pretty good selection of ukuleles starting at about $41.99…all kinds of colors, sizes, tunings, and what not. Even our own Jim Peso teaches lessons if you’re interested! Check our teacher listing on the website to hit him up on it.
I’m off to search Google for any results of ukulele death metal. Stay excellent and have a good